Monday, February 9, 2015

Ferguson Police Testing "Less Lethal' Gun Attachment

Yahoo news suggested by Kurt

Ferguson police are testing new methods of incapacitating suspects — six months after a highly controversial police shooting involving one of their officers.

This week, five instructors for the Missouri city’s police department are training to use a "less lethal" device, called the Alternative, which has enough force to knock a suspect to the ground but not kill him or her.

The Alternative is a small orange device that attaches to the top of a normal handgun and extends a Ping-Pong-ball-sized projectile in front of the muzzle.

After traveling through the barrel, the bullet embeds itself inside the alloy projectile, and the docking unit immediately detaches from the weapon, according to the manufacturer.

This process decreases the bullet's velocity and dampens its impact. The bullet, then, should not pierce a human’s skin and cause the type of internal damage that would kill the person. However, it retains enough blunt force to knock someone over and deliver severe, debilitating pain.

Christian Ellis, founder and CEO of Alternative Ballistics, says Ferguson police reached out to him after an extensive Google search.

“After the Michael Brown shooting, they were very concerned about taking lives and making sure that they are proactive,” he said in an interview with Yahoo News. "These guys are taking it very seriously. They really like the technology, and I think they are doing the right thing by giving their officers more tools so they can deal with deadly force encounters in different ways."


  1. What happens with shots 2 through 12?

    1. Looks like they'll be full-lethal.

    2. That's just ONE of the reasons this strikes me as a HORRIBLE idea. Add to that the fact that this doohickey means that the cops will be treating their gun as if it is a less lethal device--some are already trigger happy with their less lethal tasers, and others have trouble remembering which one they've grabbed (the offered defense in the BART shooting).

      The longer I think about this "solution" the more nightmare scenarios come to mind. This just seems like it will end in nothing but tears.

    3. Good point. As much as I hate to agree with Kurt, this thing looks pretty foolish to me.

    4. As much as I hate to agree with Kurt, this thing looks pretty foolish to me.

      I promise you, the experience is no less creepy for me than it is for you.

  2. They keep bringing up Michael Brown when the evidence has shown that this likely wouldn't have helped. Keep in mind that it started with Brown attempting to shoot the officer with his own gun INSIDE the squad car. Then after both were outside the car, Brown continued to advance after being hit several times with real bullets. Not seeing how something that causes less damage would have done anything but allow him to get closer.
    The first thing I noticed is that it seems to cover the front sight. Not a good thing for something that will result in bad press if it hits someone in the head for instance. There is an animated video that suggests that the front sight is still usable with it mounted,

    There is also a video on the site showing its actual use.

    The one thing needed to use this is time. Something the officer doesn't often have lots of in a deadly force situation.

  3. Just use rubber bullets.

    1. Yep, I don't see much point in this, especially when cops have tasers on their other hip for when they are in the mood for torture. This is going to have atrocious ballistics, even compared to a rubber bullet, and I can see a perp getting hit in the eye instead of COM. Rubber bullets are more effective out of a 12ga than a handgun. This would add weight over a 9mm or .40 rubber round, especially because it keeps the lead core of a regular bullet. But yeah, I don't get it.

    2. Shelly,

      I think using rubber bullets could lead, even more easily than this, to the problem of officers viewing their guns as a less lethal option--something with countless ways to end badly.

    3. Are there any nationwide opinions from police on the use of non lethal weapons? What is police protocol on using a taser compared to their regular issue gun? What percentage (nationwide) of police are issued tasers? I've seen videos of a guy still getting up after being hit by a taser more than once, but the video said that was rare and most go down after one taser shot. I've also read multiple stories of people dying from a single taser shot.
      You might be right SJ, but I imagine a cop is well aware of the difference between the damage a bullet, a rubber bullet, an electronic shot, or any other force they use, and calculate that when deciding what force to use.

    4. Shelly,

      There probably are resources where you could read opinions from various chiefs, though you're about as likely to find a national consensus as you are to find consensus here or in any other gathering of people.

      I'm not plugged in to the police community enough to recommend many sources where officers and chiefs discuss these issues, but maybe others can make some suggestions. As for questions of protocol, these vary from department to department, but most departments protocols are designed to give the officers the maximum latitude allowed by law.

      As for the disparity in videos you've seen, the effects of a taser can be frustrated by body fat, clothing, and drugs. The more musclebound the subject the more the taser has its way with them. People with higher body fat are more likely to be able to fight through one. As for the people dying, that is a sad result and a reason that protocols should, perhaps, be adjusted so that tasers aren't used unless a threat rises to a certain level rather than being used as a general purpose pain compliance device.

      I don't know the percentage of cops with tasers nationwide, but they seem universal in the part of the South I live in.

      As for your final suggestion about cops being well aware of the differences in damage possible from different devices, I think this varies. Many may underestimate the chances of a taser causing cardiac arrest. Most have, likely, never shot someone with rubber bullets and have no idea what damage those can cause. I've met some gun owners and many non-gun owners who didn't realize the danger posed even by blanks (

      In addition to this possible lack of knowledge, add in the stress of a defensive situation and it becomes obvious how an officer could make a mistake in judgment. This is why cops I've talked to have pointed out that their department has them wear the taser on the opposite hip, buys funny colored ones, and uses guns and tasers with very different grips to try and prevent the type of accident that happened in the BART shooting (if that was an accident).

      As a final tangent from that last--in looking into the issue, don't be afraid of talking with local cops and finding out their opinions and what they've been taught. I find that many of them are willing to answer questions as long as you approach them in a friendly manner. (For the ones that are prickly right off the bat, drop it and find another to speak to--best not to talk about such things with a young jumpy one that seems to have a chip on his shoulder.)

    5. Shelly, there are any number of factors that can effect the function of the taser, clothing, muscle tone drug influence. The benefit of the taser is that it is a ready now available less lethal option. Anytning that has to be attached or maneuvered in the heat of the moment is problematic as is the idea of having rubber bullets as a norm Pistol perform a lethal and non lethal role. While I am confident that an officer will not treat their guns as less lethal devices as SJ fears, having two separate roles performed by the same firearm is risky. Like having rubber bullet lead and normal after. It's asking for trouble. The pistol is a lethal option and should be only a lethal option

    6. Thanks, I'll read up on it.
      I would like to think cops would want to use the least lethal force possible, if effective.

    7. SJ, well said. I would personally be hesitant to place too much faith in opinions of Chiefs largely due to the fact that they are rarely the ones who have to use the gadgets the street cops have to use and will often base their requirements on the input of city councils/theories of how the device is supposed to work. This I just my experience. And you are correct with the variety of factors that effect the taser usage.

    8. Shelly,

      I think many, hopefully most, do want to use the least lethal force, and even the least force possible. I know I can get down on the police sometimes because of the bad apples, but most of the ones I've dealt with are decent guys. I have met a few of the bad apples, know of a county near me with a bunch of them, and am sure there are other departments that have mostly bad apples, but that's an issue for a different discussion of cleaning up those forces.

      Touching on something Mike Z said, I've had some of the cops I've talked to say similar things about Chiefs and their lack of experience and love of new gadgets or other fads. One of the cops I talked to about tasers also went on a jag about how the department made them carry .40 caliber pistols as their duty weapon and their refusal to listen to the advice of him and other officers who found it poorly suited for their needs. He also did a good job of explaining some benefits of the taser I hadn't thought of or heard of before. Departments would do well to listen more to the advice of the good, seasoned cops in their departments and less to political and gadget fads.

      It's great that you're going to read up on the issue, but don't neglect also chatting with some of the officers in your locale. You can learn a lot from their experience, and talking with them will give you a better impression of the type of police force you have where you live--let you see if it's got good guys trying to keep order and serve the public or pricks with an authority complex. Both can be drawn to the job, but a good department will encourage the former and try to retrain or get rid of the latter.

      Mike Z,

      For clarification, I don't think this device or rubber bullets will make them think of the gun as a less lethal device in a conscious way. My worry is about mixing up which bullet type is in the gun, underestimating the power of the rubber bullet, or, in the case of this device, accidentally falling back on training and double tapping so that they hit someone with this and follow up with a real bullet.

      For these reasons, I prefer that less lethal devices be separate devices, and that the cops be trained to know that Less Lethal means just what it says, not Non-Lethal, and that policies and uses be tailored accordingly.

      As a final, general note on rubber bullets, I dislike them but understand their usefulness, but I would prefer that they be used only VERY carefully and in limited circumstances where you can deploy officers armed Only with them so that there is no confusion--e.g. give only rubber bullets to cops suppressing a riot if things get that far out of hand; if there are worries of further escalation, have other cops in reserve with real ones to back up the others as needed, but take no risks of tragic mix ups.

    9. "As for the disparity in videos you've seen, the effects of a taser can be frustrated by body fat, clothing, and drugs."
      Isn't that true for real bullets? A real bullet won't do the same damage to a 400lb fat guy, or a 90lb skinny person, will it? I've read that people on on some drugs display the strength of an adrenalin surge and it takes multiple cops just to get them cuffed.
      I'll skip the local cop questions. Our local cops have a bad reputation and half the department is under indictment.
      I've also worked closely with cops. Some are good, some are bad. It's hard to get rid of the bad for many reasons, but people get to know who they are.

    10. Shelly,

      I'm sorry you live in an area with bad ones like that. It's really bad when the people charged with upholding justice in an area cease doing so.

      As for your questions, yes, those and other factors can affect bullets too, though the effects on performance will vary. I've heard from an EMT friend who saw police have to use 4 tasers to subdue a guy on bath salts. Drugs won't stop the taser from causing loss of muscle control as long as the current flows, but may deaden pain and help the person fight through after the current stops.

      As for clothing, tasers are more susceptible to it than bullets because of their lighter mass, slower speed, and the limited length of the barbs, both of which need to stick into flesh and stay there. Bullets have problems too, but most of these are related to whether they expand or not.

      The fat issue is an interesting one for tasers--the problem isn't the greater mass being transited like for bullets. When a taser shocks someone, it causes involuntary contractions of their muscles, or at least of those between where the barbs hit. Yes, this is painful, but the main thing is that the more muscular they are, the more this prevents them from moving while the current flows. If a person has lots of fat, though, this provides another medium for the current to flow through, reducing the amount flowing through the muscles and making it easier for a person to fight through.

    11. SJ, I completely agree with the less lethal needing to be a completely separate device than a lethal one. Rubber bullet guns should be made to be physically incapable of firing real ones and vice versa.
      Shelly you are correct with the difference in damage but often the bullet, depending on shot placement can do more damage to the 400 lb person than the 90 lb because all of the energy will be expended into the heavier person whereas often in a smaller person the bullet will often pass through. A typical hollow point has the greatest effect and has reached maximum expansion in about 10-13 inches of penetration if memory serves. With a smaller skinny person at that distance it may have already left the body. As far as your local cops, you have my sincerest apologizes and condolences as there are those who give the impression a bad name. And sadly it doesn't take many.

  4. Though I don't think sacrificing one round as a "pain" round is that much of a handicap to a cop in a Michael Brown type of scenario, I would be really worried about a cop who gets in a potential shoot out situation with this clumsy contraption on the end. Especially with its bright orange "less than lethal" indication, a bad guy may be more tempted to have that shoot out after all knowing that they only have to beat the second shot.